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Scholarships help pay way through college for Niles West graduate

SKOKIE — Balancing an intense course load, extracurricular activities and a newfound social life can be overwhelming for any college student—but 2012 Niles West High School alumna Ricki Esses has discovered that a super-busy schedule is the number one key to her college success.

The Lincolnwood native has taken the University of Illinois-Champaign by storm since she entered as a freshman last year, earning eight academic scholarships totaling nearly $17,000 during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

Esses has applied for a handful of scholarships, but most of them have been awarded to her by surprise after school administrators have taken notice of her strong academics and commitment to social service work.

The general engineering student most recently earned the competitive “Engineering at Illinois Scholarship” for $5,000 this semester.

While maintaining a 3.68 grade point average, Esses somehow finds time to manage 18 credit hours per semester, uphold her duties as a member of the Theta Tau Professional Fraternity, and conduct engineering research on micro-plasma, while still spending time with friends.

After finals week wraps up next week, the 19-year-old will head back to Lincolnwood for a few days to see her family before she embarks on her fifth trip to Israel with her mom.

Esses talks about her future career goals in engineering, and explains how she uses her increasingly busy schedule as a way to stay ahead.

Q: Earning eight scholarships in less than two years is quite an achievement. How do you balance a demanding course load with your social commitments and other aspects of college life?

A: I’m very busy, but I do well with having a lot of stuff going on. I admit I have a pretty decent course load, but I really believe that keeping busty contributes to my success as a student. I’m also a social person so I still find time to hang out with friends.

Q: You were accepted into the ultra-competitive College of Engineering. Outside of your regular academics, how much do you engage in other programs or engineering-related research to further your goals?

A: I’m in a research group where I work with professors on micro-plasma use in water purification. We also study reverse engineering devices for use in developing countries. Last summer, I traveled to Cameroon with an organization called “Engineers without Borders,” and also interned at Gewalt Hamilton Associates, a civil engineering and land surveying company. Next summer I will be in Cincinnati interning for Procter and Gamble as a control systems intern.

Q: Engineering is sometimes considered a male-dominated field. Have you encountered any challenges as being part of the minority in that sense?

A: There are definitely more guys in the engineering program, but I don’t notice it as much as you’d expect. There are a lot of activities and ways for female engineers to get involved in groups that support other female engineers. In my department, about 25 percent of the students are female, so I don’t find it to be a big problem.

Q: Any big plans for next semester?

A: I’m spending the spring semester abroad in Madrid, where I’ll be studying in an engineering program.

Q: It’s hard to believe you’re already almost half-way through college. What do you see yourself doing in the future?

A: I actually never planned on going into engineering. I was into architecture during high school, but after visiting colleges I figured out that I wanted to use more math, science and critical thinking skills so I chose engineering instead. Ultimately, I want to get onto a business engineering path and work in control systems.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of college for you thus far?

A: I think finding the right balance between doing well in classes but still making time for friends, and of course sleep. The balance is much different than it was in high school.

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